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JFC Approves School Choice Voucher Plan

Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee have advanced a state budget plan that would expand private school vouchers to all Wisconsin school districts. The plan adopted early Wednesday morning by the Joint Finance Committee allows 500 choice students in the first year and 1,000 in the second year. The program would also be limited to children from families living at 185 percent of the federal poverty line and prevents districts from losing more than one percent of students to private schools using vouchers. Republicans unveiled the plan after nearly ten hours of closed door negotiations on Tuesday, although details of the plan have been under discussion for more than a week. Governor Scott Walker’s budget plan originally proposed adding school choice to just nine districts in the state, and state Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) says the new measure vastly expands that without even holding a public hearing. Shilling called the GOP proposal “vouchers on steroids,” and questioned the ability of the state to sustain two education systems. The education plan increases per pupil funding in school districts by $150 over each of the next two years. Republicans also deleted Walker’s proposals for a statewide charter school oversight board and a special needs vouchers program. The measure passed on a 12-4 party line vote. The full Legislature will take up the budget later this month.